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AT&T, Comcast defend repeal of internet privacy rules

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Written by Kamil Arli

The Verge published an article about what Comcast and AT&T says: “You shouldn’t worry about gutting of internet privacy rules.”

Comcast and AT&T published blog posts this morning responding to the backlash they’ve been receiving since Congress voted to revoke a strong set of internet privacy rules that would have prevented internet providers from using or sharing their customers’ web browsing history without permission. The companies take very different approaches when responding, but the takeaway from both is that they think customers should stop worrying.

Comcast takes the friendlier approach and actually makes some basic commitments to customers. “We do not sell our broadband customers’ individual web browsing history,” writes Gerard Lewis, Comcast’s chief privacy officer. “We did not do it before the FCC’s rules were adopted, and we have no plans to do so.”

“THE CONGRESSIONAL ACTION HAD ZERO EFFECT.”

Of course, “no plans to do so,” is not the same thing as “we will never do so,” but Comcast is largely indicating here what we’ve suspected: that people’s worst fears — ISPs letting people buy their web history — isn’t likely to happen for any number of reasons.

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Comcast also says it will rework its privacy policy to “make more clear and prominent that … we do not sell our customers’ individual web browsing information to third parties and that we do not share sensitive information unless our customers have affirmatively opted in to allow that to occur.” (Though note that, in this context, “sensitive” information is limited to specific things, like health information and data on children.)

 Comcast isn’t making commitments

That’s helpful. But Comcast isn’t making commitments that’ll make it easier for customers to protect their data from being used. The rest of its blog post largely consists of Lewis explaining the weaker privacy rules the FCC is now reverting to in terms that make them sound much tougher than they actually are. He does note, however, that Comcast offers an option for customers to opt out of seeing its targeted ads.

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AT&T’s response has the same message at its core, but the tone couldn’t be more different: it’s standoffish and argumentative, with AT&T’s public policy chief, Bob Quinn, trying explain why nothing has changed and the FCC was wrong in the first place.

AT&T AGAIN COMPLAINS THAT THE PRIVACY RULES WERE UNFAIR TO INTERNET PROVIDERS

“The Congressional action had zero effect on the privacy protections afforded to consumers,” Quinn writes. “It is also flatly untrue that the Congressional action eliminated all legal protections governing use of consumer information.”

Most of the post is spent complaining about the FCC’s approach under Obama, and Quinn even gets a dig in at Title II reclassification, indicating that AT&T would like to see it reversed.

Quinn doesn’t actually get into that in the blog post

So what privacy rights does AT&T say its customers have? Quinn doesn’t actually get into that in the blog post, aside from saying that existing statutes still offer them protection. That’s true, to a point. But the existing statute is distinctly weaker than what the new rules would have offered. Like Comcast said, “sensitive” information is still protected, but that only includes very specific categories of information.

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Quinn also points to AT&T’s privacy policy, which he says was one of the first to “move away from” looking “like a legal document.” That policy says that AT&T “will not sell your personal information to anyone, for any purpose.”

Trump has yet to sign the resolution reversing the FCC’s privacy order, but he’s expected to do so in the coming days. On Thursday, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said that killing the rules “will allow service providers to be treated fairly and consumer protection and privacy concerns to be reviewed on an equal playing field.”

For more on what the death of these privacy rules will and won’t allow internet providers to do, you can read our story breaking down what it means for your privacy.

About the author

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Kamil Arli

Editor of DigitalReview.co. Digital Media Consultant

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